Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission Te Komihana Rūwhenua o Waitaha Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission – Te Komihana Rūwhenua o Waitaha

Those who lost relatives and friends in the 22 February earthquake can be assured that there will be a very thorough inquiry into the failure of buildings that resulted in loss of life.
Chair, Justice Mark Cooper


12 July 2011

Technical Reports Being Prepared For Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission

The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission has commissioned a raft of reports from New Zealand and international technical experts to help its inquiry into building failure caused by the Canterbury earthquakes.

GNS Science and University of Canterbury Professor Jarg Pettinga are preparing a paper outlining the seismic nature of New Zealand and the nature of the Canterbury earthquakes.

William Holmes, US-based international expert on earthquake structural engineering, is reviewing and commenting on the report being prepared for the Department of Building and Housing’s investigation of the Canterbury TV, Pyne Gould Corporation, Grand Chancellor and Forsyth Barr buildings. He is also assisting with the review and determination of the performance of the other buildings that will comprise a representative sample in the Central Business District, including earthquake-prone buildings.  Providing the Commission with information regarding international best practices relating to earthquake design and construction of buildings is also part of Holmes’ brief.

University of Canterbury Associate Professor Greg MacRae is undertaking a comparison of New Zealand standards used in the design of buildings for earthquake actions and material standards for reinforced concrete and structural steel buildings. The report should enable engineers and owners to identify potential weaknesses in buildings, which were designed to previous standards, in comparison to structures designed to current standards in 2010. 

Associate Professor Jason Ingham of University of Auckland will report on the strengthening and performance of old buildings for and under earthquake conditions. He is being assisted by Professor Michael Griffith of the University of Adelaide.

Another University of Canterbury earthquake engineer, Associate Professor Misko Cubrinovski, is reporting on soils and liquefaction. His report will include a general review of the alluvial soils found in the Christchurch Central Business District, and the general concepts which should be followed in the design foundations for buildings on these soils.

Professor Andy Buchanan and senior structural engineers from the University of Canterbury are reporting on the research and development of new design and construction methodologies to improve the ability of buildings to withstand earthquakes. The report will also cover developments in respect of concrete, steel and timber structures and also refer to base isolation.  The reasons for the development of the new methodologies, and the results anticipated from their use, will also be included.

Another report is being sought on the sequential development of standards for building construction in New Zealand from 1935 to the present day, and the processes by which the developments have occurred. This report will consider the legislation and other rules governing the engineering profession since 1924 to the present day.  A comparison will be made between the current New Zealand rules and those that apply in other countries to which New Zealand commonly bench-marks and the manner in which building controls are managed by building consent authorities and ways this might be improved.

A report is also being sought on the changes in masonry design standards over the last 75 years.

Other topics being investigated include:

  • The procedure used in the initial rapid assessment made of buildings in the city following the 4 September 2010, 26 December 2010 and 22 February earthquakes together with the basis of this method.
  • The regulatory framework for approving the construction of buildings in New Zealand
  • The training of structural and geotechnical engineers in New Zealand and the procedure used in assessing their competence to qualify for the Charter Professional Engineer qualification and the restrictions placed on engineers who do not have this qualification.
  • How territorial authorities select earthquake-prone buildings and the steps they take to improve their seismic performance and the level to which these buildings are upgraded.

The estimated cost of the reports to date is $326,000 but will increase as the inquiry progresses and more reports are sought. In due course the reports will be published on the Commission’s website and people will able to make submissions or comments on them to assist the Commission’s inquiry.

These reports are in addition to information provided to the Commission by New Zealand Police, Christchurch City Council and the Department of Building and Housing.

Since the Commission was established in April 2011, it has also built up a team of eight staff to assist including two Counsel Assisting (independent lawyers) whose role includes ensuring the Commission’s process is fair and robust for all parties.


About the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission

The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission was established in response to the building failure and loss of life caused by the Canterbury earthquakes in February 2011.

A Royal Commission is the most serious response available to the Government. The Commission is independent from the Government and can determine its own processes to investigate matters outlined in its Terms of Reference.

In May the Commission chaired by sitting High Court judge Justice Mark Cooper began its work. The other two Commissioners are former University of Canterbury Associate Professor Richard Fenwick and Sir Ron Carter.
Expressions of interest are now being sought from any person or organization wishing to participate in the Inquiry, either by making submissions, giving evidence or providing information to the Royal Commission.
Public hearings will be held in Christchurch during the latter part of 2011.

The Commission will provide an interim report to the Government by 11 October 2011. The Government requires the final report no later than 11 April 2012. The reports will contain findings and recommendations for Christchurch Central Business District (CBD) and CBDs in other parts of New Zealand.

Media Contact

Robin Major
Senior Communications Advisor, Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission
Phone 021 621 656